Monday, February 23, 2015

Clocking in and out the automated way

I've started using an app on Android called Automate-It Pro to help keep track of my time in and out of work.  Since my time is billable, I need to know when things start and stop.  For now what I've done is added a widget to my phone that sends an email to Evernote recording the location and time in a new note categorized for my work notebook and tagged for the client.

This is all done through a single tap on the widget when I arrive and when when I leave each day.  While I could accomplish this through geotagging, since this is a test I'm sticking with manual for the near term.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Keeping a Work Journal

JoelMontes / Foter / CC BY-SA

As a productivity and process professional I am always focused on the tool or tools being used to make processes more efficient and effective.  Sometimes though it's not about the tools...it's about something more basic.  Over the past three months I've been working on a number of projects where it is important to keep running track of the work going on in parallel.  Due to some specific limitations for security reasons, I keep track of my work in a paper journal.  Now normally this would be perceived as inefficient and in dire need of replacement with digital tools and processes.  However, let's not look at the tools and rather let's look at the process.

My journal starts with a page each day that acts as an index to the work accomplished each day.  Included on that page is the date and the start and end times for work that day.  Since I'm responsible for reporting my time for my client (as many of us need to do) I need to know not only what I've done but how long it has taken me.  As the day progresses and I switch from topic to topic two things happen in the journal: first I make a verbose record of the work and second, if I'm starting a new activity for the day, I add a line to the daily summary.

It's not a complex system  There are all kinds of techniques on the Internet to "improve" the efficiency of such a system but what I feel they lose sight of is, does the process and the tool meet the original objective?  With each week I have had the instincts to "tinker" and try to improve the tools and techniques and wind up coming back to my paper and pens.  This process of verbose journaling has helped me focus on objectives, develop more detailed plans, and work through iterations while providing myself visibility into my own thinking process than I have had before.

How do I start a work journal?

First you have to give yourself permission to spend time capturing a level of detail about your activities greater than you are accustomed to.  The reason why I say, "give yourself permission," is because we are trained to find the most efficient path for our work which doesn't necessarily lend itself to taking a detailed record of what we do for the purposes of review and learning.

The method of work journaling is more important than the tools involved.  Use your journal as a storage place, a work space, and a narrative of successes and failures.  The key is to circle back frequently and transfer important content from the journal to your normal note and information management systems.  The journal is all about the capture, not about the organization.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Weekly Planning Sessions

In this article from the Quo Vadis blog, they talk about the importance of weekly planning sessions.  One of the shifts I have made as of late is to not do my weekly recap and planning for the next week at the same time.

At the end of each week I have to complete a timesheet for my consulting work for approval and review.  It's the process of completing that timesheet where I perform my weekly recap.  I gather the information from my daily logs, capture my time and activities, and submit the accomplishments for the previous week.  During that recap, when I find something that needs to be moved into the next week I make a note of it BUT I do not try to plan for it right then. 

Once all the recap work is done and the timesheet is completed, I make sure I have the notes for work to move forward captured well and then I put things away for Monday.  I do my weekly planning on Monday morning when I am fresh from the weekend.  This two pronged approach has allowed me to appreciate my successes more thoroughly as well as provided focus and direction for my weekly planning.  How about you?  Are you following the traditional methods or do you have your own unique twist? 


photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

A Day in the Life of my Paper Journal

My current notebook

My job has placed some interesting technological limitations on my traditional productivity methods, so in response I have made the transition back to pen and paper for keeping my activity records of my daily work.  You would think that for someone as digitally focused as I this would be a significant step backwards but surprisingly, especially to me, this has not been the case.  There are a few habits I have engaged that I will pass along in the hopes they may assist you as well.

The Daily Log Page

Each day of my journal begins with a daily log page.  This page includes:

- Date
- Arrival time at work
- Page number

From this point, each major topic or project I work on during the day is logged as a single line item.  By the end of the day I have a list of the major accomplishments for the day as well as my start and end times (these are critical when billing for time.)

The Journaling Process

As I move through the day all my notes and observations about my projects are logged in the journal.  Each page receives a page number and the date for easy reference later on.  This is where the first major change in my process happened and it has made all the difference in the world for me.

Permission to be verbose

I grew up in the workplace taking short, succinct notes.  Brevity and accuracy were next to perfection in my mind.  What I discovered though is there was an exceptional amount of effort I was having to put out trimming down my notes.  For what purpose?  They're my notes.  No one else is going to be reading them.  That's when the lightbulb went on and I stopped writing notes FOR myself and started writing them TO myself.  You see, since they are for reference then assumption is I would not have complete recall of the topic at hand and would be looking for more detailed information.  Rather than "summing up" a topic I started writing to explain it to myself as if it were something new. 

Losing the self consciousness of writing a narrative to myself freed my mind to capture all the detail I might need and not feel bad about it.  Where before if the notes on a topic went on for more than a page I would be quick to edit and trim back, now I am writing 10-20 pages of notes a day.  It may seem excessive but in every instance where I have needed to know something I can now go back and find exactly what I need without consternation or doubt.

Permission for white space

I'm the first to admit I have a problem when it comes to notebooks and pens.  I love them.  The look, the feel, sometimes even the smell of the paper can put a silly grin on my face.  But with that came a dilemma.  I purchase these wonderful notebooks but then would hesitate to write in them for fear what I was writing "wasn't good enough" for the notebook.  I know, right?  Sounds ridiculous, but it's true (and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.) 

The other major change was to give myself "permission" to write in these wonderful notebooks.  Now I don't hesitate to turn the page when a page is half full if that will help me keep my thoughts in order.  I sketch, I doodle, I diagram, but all with the objective in mind.  When I finally accepted these journals were for me and not for public consumption, a significant weight was lifted.

The question comes in when we start thinking about collaboration.  Turning analog to digital raises the specter of "aren't you doing double work?  Can't you just capture it digitally first?" Sure I could, but I don't want to.  My notebook has become my rough draft for digital; the starting place of the ideas and words before they are polished and sterilized by Ariel and Calibri fonts.

Not for everyone

The analog world is not for everyone.  If you have poor handwriting (as far too many people do) you may be best served typing.  If you have challenges focusing or other issues, digital may be your bastion of sanity.  But give analog note taking a try.  No one says you have to stick with it, but who knows, you might just like it.


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Using Google Wallet for more than online

I'll admit, I'm an avid Google Wallet fan.  I like the interface and functionality; heck I even carry a Google Wallet card in my wallet.

Papa Johns has jumped on the Google Wallet bandwagon by allowing you to pay for your pizza with your Google Wallet account. Hmmm...I'm thinking anchovies...


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Making Google Keep more useful on Android

If you're a Google Keep user on Android, you may be wishing there was an easier way to add a new note into Keep without having to either open the app or use one of Google's two widgets (3x1 and 3x2 size?  Really?) to tie up precious desktop space.  If you also use Nova Launcher here's a trick to save some space and make things faster.

Screenshot of Google Keep activities in Nova Launcher

From the page on your launcher where you want to add a shortcut, bring up the Nova menu and select Shortcuts > Activities.

Scroll down until you find the Keep section then expand it to show all the various activities that can be done.  Select "activities.EditorActivity" from the list and you'll now have a shortcut on your home page that immediately launches into a new note with just a tap.  No big widget, no extra memory use.  It's just that easy.